Alice Salomon Award Laudation für Adrienne Chambon von Julia Winckler, Stefan Köngeter & Susanne Maurer, gehalten am 3. Mai 2022 an der ASH Berlin

Julia Winckler, Stefan Köngeter & Susanne Maurer: Introduction

We are delighted to be here with you all tonight to celebrate Prof Adrienne Chambon’s extraordinary achievements and important international contributions to the field of social work history, theory and practice. To talk about a person with so many facets is both an honour and a challenge. When writing this speech together, the three of us reflected on the best ways to do this. We asked ourselves from which position or positions we should speak, what to foreground, what to leave out. We believe that Adrienne herself would take these questions very seriously, and we hope to be able to do justice to her work and legacy in this cooperative laudatory contribution. We reflected on the challenge of talking about, rather than with Adrienne. (Joachim Wieler put the wonderful word “Zusammen-Setzen” in der / bei aller “Auseinander-Setzung” … and Adrienne likes to speak about her work in terms of “conversations” ...)

Thus, we would like to follow Adrienne's biography and achievements through our own encounters with her, and reflect them under the headline of “knowledge and practice for solidarity”. This motto is one of the most important connecting points for our experiences with Adrienne, and also very much connects to the work of Adrienne itself; indeed, Knowledge for Solidarity (a Critical Cultural Theory for Social Work) was the title of one of her major research projects. And it is “knowledge and practice for solidarity” that we do also find in the work of Alice Salomon – so this makes one of quite a few affinities between the 2 of them ... In this talk, we will highlight just a couple of the complex strands and multiple layers of Adrienne Chambon’s research approach and foreground her inclusive, considered and careful research practice, as well as her generosity in facilitating collaborations and networks – through which she has enabled transnational connections in many countries, including Canada, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Kazakhstan and Israel, over many decades. After a childhood spent in Paris [and New York], Adrienne completed her first degrees in Sociology at the University of Nanterre (in 1968 and 1970), and at the age of 26, she moved to Israel with family, where she continued her studies in Social Work. After living and working in Israel for seven years, Adrienne moved to the US, where she obtained her PhD at the University of Chicago and held academic posts there, as well as in New Jersey. She moved to Toronto, Canada, in 1991 to take up a post at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Social Work, where she became a highly respected Professor, PhD and MA supervisor. Across several decades, she taught a large number of courses and had many roles, including as Director of doctoral Studies.

(Here we can also find an interconnection with Alice Salomon – both of them being inspired and inspiring ‘teachers’, each in her very own way, being highly committed to knowledge creation in cooperative networks ...) To come back to Adrienne’s places to be - Toronto was and continues to be her base, while also travelling back and forth between Canada and France, as well as other places in Europe, and beyond.

Julia Winckler: Activating the Archive

I first met Adrienne Chambon in 1994, when I had the great fortune of her being my MA dissertation supervisor on the Social Work course at the University of Toronto, which Adrienne had recently joined from the University of Chicago. In group seminars we would present ideas and research methodologies in a supportive and critical environment, discussing the use of photography, from photo elicitation, to working with archival images, to making new collaborative images with research participants as co-researchers, as important tools in doing social work research. We practiced the careful reading of images and narratives, listening to silences and gaps in recorded conversations, focusing not just on what was said but how it was said, and in which language. It is no surprise that Adrienne Chambon repeatedly received the Faculty of Social Work Excellence in Teaching Award.

Over the years that followed, Adrienne became an important mentor, inviting me and others to participate in research collaborations; she has been a dedicated critical and supportive friend and ally. Throughout her whole working life, and with huge personal commitment and curiosity she has also supported the research and projects of a very long list of PhD and MA students, colleagues and friends. Adrienne Chambon is a deeply accomplished practitioner, writer, thinker, reader and a compassionate listener. Her work has significantly expanded the field of social work history, and through her careful, forensic approach, in tandem with far-reaching transnational research, she has made connections between micro and macro histories, focusing on marginalized, untold stories, often, but not exclusively, of women and children, of migrants and displaced people. A key feature of her approach is the idea to ‘claim and make space’ for a multiplicity of voices, of perspectives, experiences and actions and to nurture the practice of dialogue and active citizenship. She has achieved this through a range of strategies, an important strategy having been the activation and reactivation of archives, paying close attention to visual representations.

For example, in an earlier project, Adrienne Chambon explored an idealized representation of a just society by mobilizing a series of frescoes painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the early 14th century in Sienna. These frescoes work as allegorical representations of good and bad governance during the Middle Ages. Whereas in the example of bad governance, the town and surrounding countryside have been destroyed, with houses in ruins and farmland lying dry and barren, in the example of good governance, residents are able to organize and administer their lives collectively, in a fair way as free and active citizens. They live in an area full of abundance and peace. These frescoes were used from the 19th century onwards, at the time of nation state building, as an important example for what a free, democratic space could look like, where citizens organize civic and communal structures together. Rereading and interpreting these Italian frescoes in relation to the field of social policy and welfare, an important concern of Adrienne Chambon has been to explore and trace how, across time and space, some communities were included within the public sphere, able to enact their citizenship fully, while others were and continue to be excluded and marginalized by governments, professional and economic bodies.

To make these ideas concrete, and show how Adrienne Chambon has explored these in research projects, I want to briefly zoom into one of her most recent projects, called ‘Social Work and the 'Wished-For' City: Claiming Spaces for Women and Children In Early 20th Century Toronto.’ This developed out of ‘Knowledge for Solidarity’, an interdisciplinary collaborative project Adrienne initiated in order to investigate agency and community social work archives and practices, focusing on the careful re-examination of visual and text-based archival material. For the Wished for City, Adrienne invited an interdisciplinary team of six colleagues, which included Prof Ernie Lightman from the University of Toronto, who is also here tonight. Working together as a team, our starting point was to look at the visual archives of several Toronto social welfare institutions and public service agencies, including public health and planning department records. The photographs we examined had been taken by various professional photographers in the early decades of the 20th century as part of a series of administrative surveys to document the housing conditions in an established working class neighbourhood in central Toronto, where successive waves of immigrants and refugees would settle upon arriving in Canada. This included Jewish immigrants, the first Chinese migrants, Black residents, Irish and Italian migrants. We also mobilized transnational archives and looked at other survey photographs made in Europe at the same time. Our approach working with these archival sources followed several steps: an intense examination of agency photographs, paying close attention to the images content, context and their circulation. Bringing socio-economic questions to these images, our line of inquiry included asking: How do photographic practices both hide and reveal perspectives of value in the recording of cities and their inhabitants? We asked what stories these material sources ‘tell’, acknowledging complexity and multiplicity of meaning. By bringing together and investigating a range of archival source material, and making visible the materiality, uses, reuses and circulation of archival documents across time and space, new contexts and deeper meanings came to the surface. We were attentive to the fact that these various sets of photographs not only documented the plight of working class families, but frequently they also included representations of children at work and at play, highly visible as participants at street corners, on thresholds, in lanes, and emerging playgrounds of transforming, and expanding urban spaces. Depending on the commissioning department or organization, the presence of children in the photographs was used to elicit pity or to strengthen arguments to clear areas, or sometimes both. Yet, when we paid close attention to the children in these archival photographs we would notice the children’s creative use of space, their interactions, their confident movement through spaces, their gestures, their use of neighbourhood streets as playgrounds in the absence of actual playgrounds. We reflected that in these photographs, photographers had inadvertently captured moments in which children had transfigured and negotiated the world they occupied through creative play into civic spaces of possibility and promise. We found commonalities across the regions we studied of many of these neighbourhoods being seized for commercial development under the pretext of so-called slum clearance. One of the patterns that emerged was that frequently, an official photography commission would be undertaken to document in detail these high-density, low income neighbourhoods. Then the notion of ‘slum’ was invoked. We realized that in many cases, the photographic documents were intended for the sole use of city administrators and so called planning experts to be used as evidence and corroboration of prescribed strategies and renewal policies. Under the guise of slum clearance, these centrally located neighbourhoods were broken up as early as the 1910s, and as late as the 1970s. Following demolition, residents were usually rehoused on the urban peripheries, away from the centre, leading to further marginalization and exclusion. Therefore, a further question brought to the archival images was: How can these sets of images be activated through curation to give emotional understanding of the individuals and communities represented, whose living spaces were broken up? This is an important question as popular low-income residential areas in towns and cities across the world are still frequently either demolished or become gentrified in the wake of commercial development. In these neoliberal times socio-economic gaps are widening, and with them is the threat to the fabric of cities themselves.

As a team, we developed publications and exhibitions, with audience interaction and participation being key features of each exhibition. We enlarged images, showed them on screens and reanimated them. The exhibitions sought to open up novel ways of visualizing historical research, highlighting problematic continuities, activating emotional responses, while also giving back historical archives to the public sphere and bringing them to new, and younger, audiences, including children, who in some cases felt a sense of connection and empathy with the communities and the children recorded in the archival photographs. In her ongoing work, Adrienne Chambon has explored the connections between social work knowledge and the arts, and has highlighted and advocated the importance of socially engaged arts and participatory arts in offering alternative ways of knowing and understanding. The practice of activating the visual archive and making creative interventions makes it possible to imagine ‘a wished for city’, a space, a society that is more just, that has a future where historically oppressed and marginalized communities and children of every country are central and much valued part of the fabric of society and shape decision making processes, as was the case in the Sienna frescoes exemplifying good governance.

Stefan Köngeter: Recognizing and Crossing boundaries

As a young man from a rural, catholic part of Southern Germany, it was late that I entered the field of international academia. And it was Adrienne who opened this world for me. I had my PhD finished and was part of the research training group transnational social support as a postdoc. It was there when I first met Adrienne who was part of the group of international scholars in this research training group. Her interest in transnationalism differed from the mainstream research that was done in this field. Transnational studies were mostly focused on the ongoing interconnections of people, ideas, objects, and capital across the borders of nation-states. Adrienne Chambon pointed out to two important dimensions which were neglected at the time, at least in the field of social work: First of all, she brought in historical depth into the discourse of transnational social support, by revealing that these processes of robust connections across national boundaries are not new, but have a long history: The historical creation and transformations of connections across national boundaries, the spaces of interaction across social groups who became nations, the ongoing translations across people speaking different or same languages. All of this could be found for a long time. And it is important to know and understand all of this. This is what Adrienne Chambon emphasized here. Secondly, she asked crucial questions about the ongoing inclusion and exclusion of groups, people, communities also in the discourse on transnationalism. Who is excluded from this new discourse on transnationalism? What kind of presumptions flow into the discourse on transnationalism? Who is able to articulate these perspectives? It is one of these striking examples of Adrienne Cambon’s virtuosity in unveiling the hidden agenda of discourses by asking the right questions at the right time. She is an academic in its truest sense. She is not giving answers, but an academic artist who raises the important questions. Adrienne Chambon deciphered the discourse on transnationalism and its deep roots in Western thinking on nationhood. The Western history of celebrating the nation in the 19th and 20th centuries, the reflection on the devastating consequences of this delusion and, finally, the attempt to overcome national boundaries, all of this flows into the discourse on transnationalism. However, there are groups who are again not recognized, again excluded from this discourse, have again not the possibility of entering into this discourse. These are for example refugees and indigenous communities, as Adrienne Chambon emphasized. Since the discourse is so biased by its own history, the important transnational interrelations of first Nations in the Americas to settler communities are not considered as trans-national. This leads to the consequence that first nation communities were again not considered to be important actors with its own rights, own perspectives, and own discourses. True Solidarity across boundaries is only possible if we are willing to reflect on inclusions and exclusions that go along with knowledge and practice of solidarity. But what is important here, Adrienne Chambon’s critique does not stop here. It is not only critical, but productive, in a double sense, on the level of knowledge creation and of practice. In an intriguing article she argues that the discourse of multiculturalism, dominated by the settler communities in Canada, and the discourse of self-government, dominated by First nation communities in Canada only partly share a common understanding of the world. What are the consequences of this dilemma that we are living in societies with groups and communities who hardly share common terminologies, common understandings of the world, whose facts of the one group are fakes for the other and vice versa?

This is a particular thorny question in past as in present and, particularly, in these days when, again, people or groups of people aim or threaten to extinguish the other group. There are no easy answers for this question, and Adrienne Chambon always refrained from easy answers. Instead, she insists on the recognition of differences in the respective world views, in finding joint commonalities, and in supporting those who suffered most from the disrespect of others. This is how she established this large network of international scholars, not in exploiting this network for her own power, but to enable true encounters among those who need it most. It is the silent, almost invisible work, which is the most valuable part of her transnational practice of solidarity.

Susanne Maurer: Listening to the unheard voices

Among the 3 of us I am obviously the oldest, and came to know Adrienne as the latest. But: She had already come to me “by the book”! A colleague (Cornelia Schweppe) had given me the landmark publication “Reading Foucault for Social Work”, edited (and partly written) by Adrienne Chambon, Laura Epstein and Allan Irving in the late 90ies, and having been translated in several languages, since.

Reading this book, I was fascinated! That was what I had been waiting for, working already in reference to Foucauldian thinking and trying to conceptualize something like the “dispositive of the social”, myself. (I always thought: this book should be translated into German, but that has still to be done! :-) ...)

Speaking from the moment of “now” I would say: strategies of archeology and genealogy can be found in Adrienne Cambon’s’ work in the most interesting ways – we heard about that already via the examples Julia was referring to, or from Stefan, concerning discourses on transnationalism. Here, in these closing remarks, I would like to stress especially the aspect of “listening to the unheard voices” – to voices that all too often have been silenced – powerfully, forcefully, violently. Listening to these voices and learning from them – that is what I can learn from Adrienne Chambon. Listening to these voices as a committed, dedicated practice, doing it as honestly as possible, doing it seriously, and decently – that is what I receive as a quality in Adrienne’s work. Voices that express themselves not necessarily by spoken language, but by the body, by un/certain movements, not at least: by means of arts. Voices that can sometimes be ‘heard’ across time and space, if you open up enough - to listening...

While I was thinking about this I remembered not only Michel Foucault’s little text “Infame Menschen”, I remembered also Alice Salomon’s Book “Soziale Diagnose” from 1926. There Salomon writes about the “art of helping”, but also about the “art of living”. She writes about the necessity to respect and acknowledge every human being in its own right, in its own experience, in its own life world and way of living. And she also writes about the danger to patronize, to matronize others, to overwhelm them, by ways of social work.

This kind of sensibility, of sensitivity I find very much in the work of Adrienne Chambon: Listening, learning, co-creating knowledge in and for solidarity, while being always aware of the power relations of each context, a power dimension that is sometimes reaching way back into the past. It is one aspect of ‘opening up the archive’ - the archives of lives, of suffering, of surviving, the difficult and conflictuous archives of societies ‘as a whole’.

We do not find it very often in social work (research) – this attempt to interconnect the diverse pasts of places to the multi-layered histories of societies, especially re-tracing the forgotten, the silenced, the extinguished lives and voices, these names and faces ‘obviously’ not known any more.

To re-define (and re-fine) social work as ‘society’s memoir’, as a “site of remembrance”, or a “storage” of social struggle and social conflict, as well as of all the attempted “answers” given by social movements, social politics and social work – that kind of idea brought us together, Adrienne and me, not at least.

I would love to appreciate these very precious moments, when I came to know, during long conversations in many places, how careful and sympathetic Adrienne Chambon would engage in the common, or should I say, communal, praxis of thought. Like Julia already mentioned: that way of opening up one’s own mind and awareness and sensibility – to an issue, to a question (that, maybe, first of all has to be found - or allowed ‘to come into being’), that way of opening up to the experience of others, of ‘listening more than talking’, but still – developing thoughts in deep encounters, is a quality that I would like to name ‘a very decent praxis’ – and that kind of decency we do really need if we wish to go for a decolonizing process, also in social work (research).

The 3 of us brought it together with the term “knowledge and practice for solidarity” – and this is, in our view, the name of a very human praxis.

Adrienne, we congratulate you again! And we are deeply grateful for your work, but also for our cooperation and friendship – in the past, present, and future!